Film Discussion

Looking back at… Jurassic Park III

“Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”

Jurassic Park III represents an interesting period in the life of the Jurassic Park franchise. Joe Johnston had been advocating to Steven Spielberg to allow him to direct a Jurassic Park installment for years. His desire was finally fulfilled with Jurassic Park III, the first film in the franchise whose plot was not based on a Michael Crichton novel. However, it does advance the characters and storyline Michael Crichton conceived: Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is back this time around to face the dinosaur demons of his past. Whether that is of his own volition is yet to be seen. Released in 2001, it continued the traditional four year gap between Jurassic Park films and stories. (The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released in 1997).

Jurassic Park III is filled with references to the original Jurassic Park film as well as The Lost World. They are heavily present visually, musically, and in the story. The film begins in a very similar way to the original, with the title logo appearing on black, accompanied by ominous, tribal music. ‘Water’ ripples across the screen with each portion of the title card and trill of the orchestra. Brass instruments rip and strings swell as three claws slash the Jurassic Park logo, creating the Jurassic Park III image.

The first shot of the film is of Isla Sorna, the “Site B” that was introduced in The Lost World. In the next shot, the driver of a small boat scopes out a small plane flying overhead, presumably to make sure that they aren’t being watched too closely. Knowledge of the beautiful and deadly nature of this island has definitely spread since the events of The Lost World, and humans are now not legally allowed to make contact with the island. 12 year-old Eric Kirby (Trevor Morgan) goes parasailing from the back of that boat over the waters of Isla Sorna with Ben Hildebrand (Mark Harelik), his mom’s boyfriend. Before they go up, Ben remarks to the boat driver that if he gets them close, he’ll give them something extra. The boat driver responds, “Not too close, you don’t want to be eaten.”

The next shot is from above the boat as it traverses the ocean, reminiscent of the shot of Hammond’s team’s boat approaching Isla Sorna in The Lost World. As their parasail gains distance from the back of the boat, Eric and Ben try to see the creatures of the island. As they pass through one of Isla Sorna’s inlets, the boat enters a thick fog and is obscured from Eric and Ben’s view. Everything seems to be fine for a second, until the boat is violently jerked around by something in the fog. When the boat emerges, the deck is strewn with blood and nearly torn apart, and the driver is nowhere to be found. In a panic-inducing moment, Eric and Ben are forced to detach themselves from their parasail line and sail aimlessly down to Isla Nublar as the boat collides jarringly with protruding rocks. Ben assures Eric that “It’s gonna be okay, bud.”

On the mainland, Dr. Alan Grant is now publicly known because of his connection to and involvement in the Jurassic Park incident. Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Grant’s love interest in Jurassic Park, is now married to a State Department employee, and they have both continued their paleontological careers independently. In a scene pulled from the first few pages of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World novel, Dr. Grant answers questions from the public in a lecture hall, and is forced to deflect questions that are about Jurassic Park or the ‘San Diego incident’. His bitterness about those events is made clear. He has a clear desire to never see or speak of living dinosaurs again, and would rather focus on his first love, discovering and studying their bones.

In a direct visual reference to Jurassic Park, we see a dig site near Snakewater, Montana and are introduced to an important new character, Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola) a paleontology protégé training under Dr. Grant. New technology allows them to 3-D print a velociraptor’s resonating chamber, which they can blow air through and mimic the noises the creatures might have made.

A man named Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) comes to the dig site and insists that Dr. Grant and Billy join he and his wife for dinner, as he has a proposition for them. Billy assures Mr. Kirby they’ll be there, and Dr. Grant reluctantly agrees. Once at dinner, joined by Mr. Kirby’s wife Amanda (Tea Leoni), the Kirbys explain to Grant and Billy that they are wealthy thrill seekers whose goal, essentially, is to participate in every amazing experience the world has to offer. Seeing Isla Sorna and its creatures is the next experience on their list, and they believe Dr. Grant is the absolute best person to be their guide. Grant refuses, of course, until Mr. Kirby pulls out his check book and asks, “How much is it gonna take..”

In yet another scene that calls back to Jurassic Park, Dr. Grant, Billy, Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, and the Kirby’s hired pilots and mercenaries fly in a chartered plane over Isla Sorna. Dr. Grant points out different species of dinosaurs to the Kirby’s delight as the Jurassic Park fanfare is cued underneath. It is a truly gorgeous and nostalgic scene. Everything is according to plan until the Kirby’s and their hired guns begin to discuss landing on the island. Dr. Grant vehemently objects, and is punched out by one of the Kirby’s goons for doing so. When Grant awakens, he is frightened to learn that they’ve landed on the island that holds the terrors of his past.

Dr. Grant and Billy inspect where they’ve landed, and hear the first roar of a large creature in the jungle. Billy remarks that it might be a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Dr. Grant, knowing a T. Rex roar all too well, responds, “I don’t think so.. sounds bigger.” A tragic accident ensues as a massive Spinosaurus emerges from the jungle and causes the group’s plane to crash before they can escape. Now stranded on the island, the true nature of the Kirby’s expedition emerges. They’ve lured Dr. Grant to Isla Sorna under false pretenses so that they can rescue their son, Eric Kirby, who has been missing for eight weeks after the parasailing accident that began the film.

Similar to the way Malcolm was forced to in The Lost World, Dr. Grant must begrudgingly face the demons of his past as he leads the group across the deadly island he has the most knowledge of. The Spinosaurus stalks the group, but the island’s velociraptors prove to be the most deadly obstacle standing in the way of the group’s escape. Billy steals items precious to the raptors, causing them to stalk the group across the island as well. Dr. Grant is especially terrified to realize that the velociraptors have learned to communicate even further than he ever thought possible. The amazing discovery of the raptor’s evolution proves to terrorize the group in the end.

In what is my favorite sequence of the film, the group discovers an abandoned InGen lab. Visual and musical references to the raptor hatchling scene from Jurassic Park ensue. Upon seeing the genetic equipment and dinosaur embryos, Amanda Kirby (Leoni) rhetorically asks, “So this is how you make dinosaurs?”. Dr. Grant responds, “No, this is how you play God.” The scene changes from hauntingly beautiful to terrifying in a flash, as the velociraptors are able to corner the group in the lab.

They are able to escape, but the reason for the velociraptor attack is deduced by Dr. Grant. Billy has stolen eggs from the velociraptors, and they are out to get them back. Billy argues that he knows that it was a stupid decision, but that he did it with the best intentions. Dr. Grant shoots back, “Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions… As far as I’m concerned, you’re no better than the people that built this place.” The level of Dr. Grant’s resentment towards InGen, their actions in creating prehistoric creatures, and his forced involvement in the danger and death that has come from those actions is on display in this scene. Because none of this was discussed in Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III allows Dr. Grant’s feelings towards everything that has happened to him because of InGen to be shown for the first time.

Nearing the climax of the film, Jurassic Park III becomes the first Jurassic film to involve characters being attacked by Pterosaurs (flying dinosaurs). The characters stumble into InGen’s “birdcage”, and must find a way to escape.

The group finds a boat and progresses down the river towards the edge of the island. As they float along, the group is treated to the beauty of Brachiosaurs and other herbivores along the river’s bank (again, reminiscent of Jurassic Park), but later plunged into further peril as the Spinosaurus returns for one last hurrah. As the film ends, and in Jurassic Park III’s ultimate homage to Jurassic Park, the group is rescued by unlikely allies, providing an uplifting ending to a rather anxious film.

Jurassic Park III is known for its change of the Jurassic Park logo from the outline of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton to that of a Spinosaurus. This represents one of two main reasons Jurassic Park III is important to the overall franchise. The first being that Spinosaurus was not a known InGen creation until now, and furthers the mystery surrounding the nefarious genetics company. The second being the continuation of Dr. Alan Grant’s story and the revelation of his feelings towards the things that have happened in his life.

It’s important to note that Jurassic Park III represents a minor point of contention within the Jurassic Park franchise’s large fanbase. The opinions on it vary. Most diehard fans at least like the film, and many fans find it to be their favorite film of the franchise. Count me among the fans that like, but not love, this Jurassic installment. Though that doesn’t mean that as a Jurassic fan I don’t heartily enjoy it every time I watch it. At the same time, there are many fans that drag it through the mud. While they are, of course, free to do so, I would argue that this mud-dragging is not entirely necessary.

The film is fully accepted in the Jurassic Park canon. Though Jurassic Park III represents a slight weak spot in a fantastic overarching film series, that does not decrease the relevance and importance of the story it tells. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Dr. Alan Grant is a pivotal character whose story in part began the Jurassic franchise. Therefore, the continuance of his story is wholly important and relevant regardless of the perceived quality of the film. His story deserves to continue.

There is also the prospect that his character will return again in future sequels. If or when that happens, Jurassic Park III’s significance will increase even more. Since the Jurassic franchise is alive, well, and continuing, Jurassic Park III is most definitely worth your watch.

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